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Sunday 4 December 2016

Donie to take lead in replay charge

Kildare morale is on the rise but Kingston & Co can still win a photo finish for Laois

STALEMATES happen and perceptions change. Just a week ago, most neutrals were tipping Laois to edge this derby battle in the Midlands while even Kildare diehards were half-fearing the worst.

That's what happens when your team of one-time challengers has just suffered its second relegation on the spin.

But now it's back to O'Connor Park for tonight's Leinster SFC quarter-final replay (7.15) and the perception is that Kildare were the big 'winners' of last Saturday's deadlock.

It's an understandable leap of faith to make, given it was Laois who surrendered a winning position in the home straight (three up after 65 minutes) and given the consequent uplift in Lilywhite morale which had been scraping along the floor for months.

There's another reason - apart from his own innate positivity - to explain why Jason Ryan was so upbeat in his immediate post-match reflections a week ago.

DEFECTIONS

The Kildare boss was a man under pressure heading for Tullamore, having been dogged not just by grim results but also by an accumulation of retirements, injuries and defections over the past six months.

On the night, though, Ryan could spy several flashes of sunlight breaking out from behind the clouds. Tommy Moolick, sidelined with a knee injury since January, got half-an-hour into his legs ... and it was to prove a critical 30-minute cameo, as Moolick hit a brace of points, including their stoppage-time equaliser.

He also had a goal chance - one of three engineered by Kildare, countering any impression that Laois were the clearly dominant party.

The expectation is that Moolick will have a more sustained involvement this evening; if so, he should help to bolster Kildare's ball-winning capacity around the middle-third, something needed against the height and heft of Brendan Quigley and John O'Loughlin.

Niall Kelly (arguably Kildare's most gifted attacker) and Eoin Doyle (a defensive shoo-in if fitness would ever allow) also came off the bench. They badly needed the game-time after recent injury woes. Tonight, we suspect, Kildare will need them even more.

The theory seems to be that Kildare will take more momentum into this sequel; that's a plausible argument but we don't necessarily buy into the notion that Ryan has to have learned far more than his opposite number, Tomás Ó Flatharta.

POWERFUL

For all the athleticism of Paul Cribbin, Laois possess the more powerful midfield. They also had the two best players on the pitch a week ago, in the lung-busting O'Loughlin and Donie Kingston, who has matured into a top-grade forward capable of dictating play on the '40' or making key incisions closer to goal.

No doubt Kildare will have drawn up plans, probably of a double-teaming nature, to try and stifle Kingston's influence. The Arles-Killeen man requires more scoring help from elsewhere in attack, instead of relying on O'Loughlin or even wandering wing-back Darren Strong. Ross Munnelly could be the X-factor but all the other Laois forwards must raise their game.

This remains a game of inches ... but we're sticking with Laois in another photo finish.

ODDS: Kildare evens, Draw 15/2, Laois evens VERDICT: Laois

LEINSTER SFC quarter-final REPLAY: KILDARE v LAOIS, Tullamore, tonight, 7.15

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